In and Around Bend, OR

Wednesday, 24 July 2013 15:30
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An aquatic citizen of BendOn the difference between living someplace because you want to live there and living someplace because you have to live there. 

My morning out of Myrtle Point followed a now-familiar pattern: Foggy and chilly along the coast, then quickly a lot warmer once I got inland. I drove away from the Myrtle Point Farm out to the coast highway, then up through Coos Bay and turned east at Florance. This was another lovely rural Oregon highway, and until I got up toward the McKenzie pass, not too remarkable other than the ubiquitous lush greenery. However, driving over the pass toward Sisters, I stumbled into another volcanic moonscape. I didn't know this was up there, although in retrospect the whole area is surrounded by volcanoes--the Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Mount Hood, etc. These lava fields looked like they'd just been laid down yesterday, although the most recent of the eruptions that created them was over 170,000 years ago.

The middle sister and the lava field More lava fields and a tiny little Datsun Obligatory Datsun shot

Right at the summit of the pass was the Dee Wright Observatory. When I saw signs for this, I thought that it was a regular astronomical 5300 feet, we were a little low for a telescope location, but the skies were probably pretty clear most nights. However, this turned out to be a terrestrial observatory. Back in the early '30s as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps program, they built a two story circular room out of the basalt and pumice at the highest point of the summit. The lower room is fully enclosed, with the exception of a series of small windows around the perimeter of the room. Each of these little windows has a plaque below it stating the name of the peak or feature that you can see through that window, plus its distance from where you're standing. Using these little windows, you can walk around the room and look at each of the volcanoes, craters, cinder cones, and other features of the volcanic area in a 360 degree panoramic view, and know which one is which from the labels. Up top, the second story was open air, but there was a similar guide in the center of the platform cast in bronze, with the names of all the features and their distances. It was all very simple, but really effective. I helped out a couple of German tourists who were having a little difficulty getting the concept, but once I correllated the view through the window with the map they were holding for them, they were delighted, and kept going around and around the room to each of the views. 

The Observatory This is the bronze peak finder on top of the observatory A couple of the 'finder' windows with their labels One of the Sisters Mount Washington (I think)

It was about another 45 miles down the mountain to Bend, with the road passing through Sisters on its way (which looks like a really nice place to visit, although I didn't stay for more than gas and some water). My room for the evening was an Airbnb guest room in a private home on the Deschutes River, and it was great--really quiet and secluded, with a back deck off the room overlooking the river. My hosts were really nice, and they even served breakfast the next morning.

A nice breakfast on the river
I had scheduled two different Airbnb stops for my stay in Bend (a total of three nights), and I took off the next morning for the home of my next host, Justyn. Her place was much closer to the Old Bend downtown area, and walking distance to several great restaurants as well as one of the parks on the Deschutes where people were throwing in tubes and rafts and drifting down the river to beat the heat (it got up to 94 while I was there, which is a bit of a heatwave for Bend). The house was a small bungalow with a private bedroom in the back, built (I believe) sometime in the early 20th century as a home for a family that worked in the timber industry that was there at the time; sort of company housing. It was very warm and cozy, with some huge pine trees in the front yard. Justyn is an artist in real life (and by profession), and she'd decorated the place very tastefully and in a way that brought out the character of the home. It was really a nice place to stay. It was made even nicer by Justyn and her friends--I had no sooner gotten my bags plunked down when she said "Hey, me and some friends are walking down to the park for a 'Munch and Music' night, and you're welcome to come along if you'd like." Naturally, that sounded great to me, as I do like both music and munchies, so off to the park we went.

Munch 'n music, with a bad cell phone picture

The scene there was very friendly and outgoing, with a large portion of the community turning out to listen to the band and to hit up many different kinds of food trucks for the 'munchies' portion. At that point, I was starting to clue into the fact that it looked like about 75% or so of the population of Bend were triatheletes. All of the conversation centered around biking or kayaking or rafting or some other form of outdoor activity, with everybody seemingly participating in all of them in one form of another, sometimes simultaneously--sort of a "I'm going to strap my kayak and my fly rod to my mountain bike and ride up the mountain to go rock climbing after I finish my yoga class near the gym" thing. Justyn herself had just finished her first century (100 mile bike ride) the previous weekend. Her friends were great as well; everyone was engaged in some sort of creative- or outdoors-related job (or both) during the day, and they were all interesting, personable, and welcoming.

We left the park and the music for alternate munchies at a newer local establishment called "Spork", which Justyn had recently become somewhat addicted to. I could see why once we started in on the food--it was really delicious, with some tasty and original menu items, almost all made with fresh and local ingredients.

For the next day, I had scheduled a fly fishing trip with a local outfitter. I've never been fly fishing before, and at the suggestion of a good friend of mine, I decided I'd give it a shot in Bend, as it's a big stream-and-river fishing area. The outfitter provided me with waders, a rod and reel, flies, and the other stuff you need to go fly fishing, as well as with Mike, my guide and fly fishing mentor. We drove about 40 minutes east of Bend to the Crooked River through even more old volcanic fields. As we got close to the river and started getting down into the canyon, the surrounding geology started changing. I'm usually a little careful about letting my geek flag fly all the time, but as we rounded a corner and got a better look at the canyon wall, that flag sort of involuntarily self-unfurled, and I blurted out "Hey look, basalt columns!"

Basalt columns form when lava cools at the right rate and under the right conditions, and it can form very regular and manmade-looking geometric shapes, usually hexagons or pentagons. Devil's Postpile near Yosemite is a good example, and since I didn't get to see that while I was there, I was excited to see some here. Luckily for me, Mike seemed to be about as big a geek as I am, and that was his cue to point out some of the other surrounding features, peaks, and craters, as well as note the different lava flows that we could see in the canyon walls, which was great to hear about. It's always nice to have a guide who knows more than just where the fish usually are.

A small example of basalt columns A larger formation. These were all over the place. You can see the layers of different lava flows

Once we got down to the river, I got about 20 minutes of instruction in the different types of fly casting from Mike, and then practiced for a bit before we started fishing in earnest. He started me out with a dry fly, which is the "classic" fly fishing setup that you'd see on postcards or in "A River Runs Through It"--big, looping overhead casts with a tiny little fly on the end of the line. I got the hang of the casting part after a few bad ones, although the first thing I caught that day was some of the weeds behind me. We fished the dry flies for about 45 minutes and couldn't get any fish interested in them, so we switched over to wet/sinking flies and a little float, which allows the fly to look like a bug larvae coming up out of the rocks on the bottom toward the surface rather than a flying bug that's landed in the water. This required getting a little further out into the river, which required navigating the moving water and some very slippery bottom rocks, all while wearing what's essentially a pair of giant clown shoes and matching pants. For a first-time fly angler, Tom Petty definitely had it right: The wading is the hardest part.

The Crooked River

Our first try at the wet fly also didn't produce any results, but the day was warming up, and we could see fish breaking the surface here and there, so we knew they were out there. Mike switched me over to a different fly, which looked pretty much identical to the previous fly with the exception of a tiny little stripe of yellow on the back, which he said mimicked one of the types of insects that'd be floating around this time of year. I couldn't imagine the fish would be that picky or even be able to see the difference--heck, I could barely see the difference and I was holding it in my hand. I'm used to fishing for stuff like bass and pike and bluefish, which are all basically evil godless eating machines that'd hit your beer can if you toss it in. These trout seemed to be more like hipster foodie connisseurs who'd turn up their nose at anything that wasn't trendy for that day. Mike's switch to that tiny stripe of yellow paint worked, though--on my third cast, I caught my first trout ever, and it was really a lot of fun. They're good little fighters and we were on really light tackle, which added to the excitement. I even got the full-on 'trout leaping from the water and glistening in the sunlight' experience ('This Fish Brought To You By The Oregon Board of Tourism'). From there on in, we hit fish pretty regularly, with occasional change-ups in location and the type of fly to try to keep up with the ever-changing epicurial preferences of the trout. Mike was great, and as he didn't have any other clients for the day, he let my half-day trip stretch into almost a full day worth of fishing before we called it quits. All in all, a really fun day on the river. I may try it again while I'm in the northwest.

Fish on! Very pretty fish. We caught and released all of them. My first trout

That evening, I hung out with Justyn and more of her friends at the house, and we just sat around and had a few drinks and talked about all sorts of stuff, which was a nice way to wrap up the day. Her cat Billy had also warmed up to me by that point, so we had the added element of him joining in. We talked a bit about why Bend seemed like such a nice place...everybody you'd meet was kind and polite, the city was very clean, there were lots of great activities and events, and so on. I saw a couple cars around town with a bumper sticker that said "Be Nice--You're in Bend!". It's that kind of mentality all around. In general, the consensus seemed to be that pretty much everybody was in Bend because it was where they decided they wanted to live, and then they figured out how to make that happen, and because of that they felt a strong sense of ownership and community and had a vested interest in keeping it a good place to be. That was as opposed to a city where a good portion of the population was there because they had to be there, either because that's where the company they worked for was located, or because they got brought along with somebody else who lived there because of a job, or some similar reasons. Since timber left, there's no longer any real strong central industry in Bend, so a lot of people live there and telecommute to tech jobs all over the world, or they've retired there, or they're figuring out how to make a living there just to be able to stay there. It seemed like a pretty good theory to me, but whatever the causes are, they are definitely working to make Bend a pretty great place. I may have to go back and spend some more time in town later, maybe see what winter is like there.

The next morning, I got the car packed up and headed north up Route 35 toward Mount Hood. I didn't know it going in, but that route between Bend and Mount Hood is also part of what's known as the "Fruit Loop", and it is just packed with orchards. There were peaches and apples and cherries of all sorts, so I stopped at one of the "U-Pick" places along the way to get some cherries. I picked a few for myself, but they also had quite a few of them at the stand, so I figured I'd get myself a sampler.

Pick your own cherries Lots of different peaches and apples. The Sierra peaches were awesome. Lots of different cherries. The Atticas were my favorite.

As I was picking them out, a guy near me asked if I knew what the differences were between all the varieties. "I'm from Michigan," he said, "and in Michigan, they're just 'cherries'. Sometimes 'sweet cherries' too, but that's about all we get." I didn't know myself what the differences were. Other than the obviously different-looking yellow Raniers, they were only distinguishable from each other by a little bit of size and color variation. "I think the Bings and the Raniers are what you'd get in your normal grocery store," I said, "but I don't know anything about these other ones. I figured I'd just try all of them and see what's what." He thought that was a good idea too, but he also borrowed a pen from one of the clerks so that he could mark the bags and remember which were which. I got into a discussion with him and his wife about their trip; they'd driven out from Michigan for a couple of weeks of exploring the Northwest. They asked what I was up to, and I filled them in on the trip. They immediately gave me a bunch of travel tips for things to see and roads to drive once I got to Michigan, including the Sleeping Bear Dunes in the "pinky" part of the state (the state looks like a hand on the map, so they refer to areas as hand parts), which was chosen by Good Morning America as "The Most Beautiful Place in America", the M-22 scenic highway, and the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. I don't think I had northwest Michigan on the original route, but I'll be adding it.

I continued up Route 35 to Mount Hood, and at the suggestion of another friend, made a stop at the Timberline Lodge. This was another WPA project, and it is, not surprisingly, just above the timberline at about 6000 feet. The place is gorgeous in a 'frontier' kind of was built using nearby rock, stone, and timber, and completed in only 15 months. It was intended as a ski resort and served as such for about 15 years, but it fell into disrepair in the mid-'50s and actually closed for a while. Then another family took over operations, luckily just as skiing was starting a boom in the US, and it then had enough visitors and revenue to be successful. The same family still operates it today. One of its claims to fame is that it was used for exterior establishing shots of the hotel in "The Shining", but that was just the outside; the interior looks nothing like the hotel in the movie, so there's no giant ballroom or elevators for blood to come gushing out of or any of that.

Mt. Hood looked like a mini version of Mount Fuji from some angles Some nice views from above the timberline A clearer view of the mountain One of Timberline's claims to fame

I was planning to camp on or near the mountain that night, so I stayed at the lodge for dinner. The dining area I was in was great; it surrounded the lobby atrium at the second floor, and had great views of the mountain. It was decorated with original artwork that was also funded by the government as part of the WPA program, and it was all pretty wonderful.

The roof of the main lobby Solo dinner at the Timberline. This is more or less my normal setup. Government funded art; not a bad idea. The piece of artwork over my table

After dinner, I headed out to a relatively secluded camping area on the Hood River called "Nottingham". Normally, I don't have much problem finding a campsite at the National Park Service places, since my footprint is small (tiny car and a one-man tent), and I'm usually camping during the week when nobody else is, but this was a Saturday night, so there were a number of other campers in the designated spots--all the spots except one, as far as I could tell. They're far enough apart that you don't really see or hear the other people, but the Park Service frowns upon camping in non-designated areas, regardless of how small your footprint is. I parked near what looked like a little campsite right on the river, paid the park fee to the caretaker, and then went to set up. I was pretty much all put together when he came by for the check at dusk to see if everybody was OK to be there.

"I don't mind you camping right here since you're already all paid and everything," he said, "but this isn't really a numbered site, it's just a wide spot for the trailer folks to turn around in."

"I'll be out first thing in the morning, so if it's OK with you, I'm OK here."

Then he looked at the car and the Nevada license plate and said "Did you drive that thing all the way up here?"

"I did," I said, "but I took my time. I didn't do it all in one shot."

"Well...that is a fine looking car. Tell you what--I've got an overflow site up on the east fork of the river that I keep for when we get busy. How about we take a ride up there and you see if you like that better than this dusty old spot. If you do, you can spend the night there instead, no problem."

Traveling with this car is like going out with a really cute girl--people seem to do nice things for her just because she's cute and has a nice smile. Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but it's pretty interesting to see just how many doors it actually opens.

I followed him up to the site and we parked at the side of the road, then walked into the woods about 150 yards on a nearly-invisible path. We eventually reached a little clearing under a grove of pines with a small fire ring of river stones. The river was about six paces more to the west. It looked a lot more inviting than the dusty bit of roadside space I'd found earlier, so I told him I'd take it, and then went back and took the tent down and moved everything over.

By this time it was starting to get pretty dark, so I ended up finishing setting up camp by flashlight, but it was worth it. The spot was nice and secluded, and a foundation of pine needles was way better than the rocky stuff I'd been on earlier. Since there was a fire ring there, I felt obligated to my caveman ancestors to make a fire. It wasn't cold, and I wasn't warding off bears or anything, but it seemed like the thing to do, and it was pretty nice. I read a book for a while, then went to sleep.

My original (small) campsite New campsite, complete with fire The Hood River

The next morning as I was bringing stuff back to the car, a man and woman in a Chevy pickup towing an Airstream trailer stopped by the car. The man said "We saw this when we were out on our walk earlier this morning--she's a beauty. I used to have one of these Roadsters, a '69. Sold it about 10 years ago. Where're you from?"

"Las Vegas," I said. "I'm out on a road trip for the summer."

"How's it running for you? Mine had head gasket problems, was always afraid to drive it very far."

"It's done great so far. Just needs a little love and attention here and there, and it keeps right on plugging away."

"Sounds a lot like travelling with a woman," he said, which got him an immediate punch in the shoulder from the woman sitting right beside him. "Good luck, though, I hope she keeps running good for you."

Originally, my plan from Mount Hood was to shoot back west to the coast, travelling through the wine areas of Oregon just south of Portland, spend the night in or near Tillamook, then jump over to Portland for a couple days. However, before I left Bend, Justyn convinced me that I needed to spend more time exploring both the Oregon wine country around McMinnville and Newberg, as well as the Washington wine region around Walla Walla, so I reshuffled the travel plan a bit and headed north toward Mount St. Helens instead, figuring I'd see that for a day, camp one more night, then go straight to Portland and hit the coastal and wine regions after that. 

I headed up Route 35 toward Washington, and spent a little time watching the windsurfers and kite surfers on the Columbia just west of where you cross the river there. There were an enormous number of them out there, and I could see why--it was blowing a dead steady and strong wind straight up the river from the Pacific. Apparently, this is pretty much the way it is all the time there, so it's turned into a mecca of sorts for the wind-powered recreation community.

All windy, all the time. First look at the Columbia River. I was kind of surprised there weren't more collisions; it was pretty crowded Another view of Mount Hood. It's everywhere. More windsurfers, farther downriver

I continued into Washington, and got onto the National Forest road system that takes you up to Mount St. Helens at Carson. These were pretty decent roads, with the exception of one annoying issue. The seemed to have sinkholes or some other kind recess under the pavement that caused a pretty good dip to form in many places. However, for some reason there were none of the usual indications of a dip--usually, you see darker pavement from the oil coming off the underside of leaky cars, or cracks in the pavement, or scratches in the road surface or something, sometimes even an actual sign, but in this case there was nothing, and they were really hard to see until you were right on top of them, at which point the Datsun treated it like a small jump. It was a little nerve wracking waiting for the next one of those to pounce on you, but I took it easy where necessary and we made it through OK.

Just before the last turn north toward the mountain, I came across a pretty decent sized stream and decided to stop too cool off. It turned out to be a good decision, as this was probably the best swimmin' hole that I've jumped into so far. It was in the inside of a big bend in the river, and the water was very still, very deep, and very cool. It was also crystal clear and probably drinkable, but I didn't test that part. After both a night of camping and a day of driving, it was just what the doctor ordered. Refreshed, I got back in the car and finished out the drive to Mount St. Helens.

The awesome swimmin' hole The Roadster Tan(tm)--Tan from the neck up, elbows down, and a little spot over the knees

The road wound from the south side of the mountain (where no damage from the 1980 eruption was visible) up to the National Park on the north side, where all the mayhem happened. I was 13 years old when the eruption happened, so I remember it pretty clearly. It was all over the news, and we followed it pretty closely in school, so I remembered a lot of the names and places, like Silver Lake, David Johnston (USGS scientist killed at the observation station), and Harry Truman (old timer who wouldn't leave). Driving up the mountain, I was surprised at just how much of it was still fairly devastated. This was 33 years ago, and there were still dead trees everywhere, floating log mats in the lake, areas still stripped bare of vegetation, and a very gray and very messed up mountain. In retrospect, it makes sense that the area still looked like that, but I'd had a mental image of it being a bit more back to normal-ish by now, and that certainly wasn't the case. It was really pretty great to see it in person after reading so much about it, and definitely awe-inspiring to see the entire side and top of the mountain turned into a large plateau off to the side of it.

St. Helens good (south) side ...and her bad (north) side. Aftermath of the 1980 eruption, 33 years later Pretty sure that's just blowing dust and not smoke...
The 'revegetating' is taking its time Diagram of the old/new St. Helens profile Spirit Lake, with the log mat of downed trees still floating around This is how far you get as a pine tree in 33 years

After a good bit of hiking around, it was getting pretty close to sundown, so I drove back down the mountain and headed north a bit toward a few convenient Washington State Parks campsites. On the way, I came across Iron Creek Falls, which was a really cool 'ramp' type waterfall, where the water hasn't eroded all the way through the basalt yet and it gets flipped out almost horizontally into the pool below. Not as large as some of the falls I've seen so far, but very pretty and in a very wild setting.

Iron Creek Falls, from the front ...and from the side

After an uneventful and normal night's sleep at a fairly nondescript (but quiet) campsite, I headed out to my next stop--Portland. I'll be staying there with my friend Tom and his family for a couple of days, and hopefully I'll have enough quality time to get a good taste of the city that everybody seems to love.


#1 lectacave 2013-07-25 12:56
Every day you see one more carp! Wow, this post was worth the wade. Fabulous!!!
#2 laceytrynn 2013-07-25 13:31
I love the observatory... and pics are fabulous as usual. Bend sounds like a great place!
#3 Mom 2013-07-25 13:46
What a great post. I am using your posts as my summer reading..thanks safe !
#4 danabart 2013-07-25 14:25
Wait, you had a FEW drinks with a "mostly" stranger? You still owe me several nights of a FEW drinks. You make Chris Hodsden proud with the really lame Petty pun. Great song though, and the lyrics are fitting for a lot of what you're doing.
#5 SJMike 2013-07-25 15:11
Neat to see what St. Helens area looks like now, watch her erupt after the major eruption in May when I was working out there. I think I still have some ash from the there.

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